Our History

“The poor we shall always have with us, but why the hungry?”
- John van Hengel, founder, St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance

Founded in 1967, St. Mary’s is the world’s first food bank. The idea came to founder John van Hengel when he was volunteering at St. Vincent DePaul, serving dinner to those in need.

When a mother stated that soup kitchens and grocery store dumpsters were the only way she could feed her children, the concept of a food bank was born, wherein individuals and companies with excess money and food could “deposit” it, and those in need could “withdraw” it. Van Hengel approached his local parish, St. Mary’s Basilica, with his vision and was given $3,000 and an abandoned building. Van Hengel’s idea became a reality, and in gratitude, he named his organization “St. Mary’s.” Inspired by his accomplishments, cities nationwide began opening food banks to feed those in need. Soon, other countries were following his lead.

Today, St. Mary’s Food Bank is one of the largest food banks in the United States, and proud of the impact it has had on Arizona—and the world.